Monday, July 14, 2008

Designer Detergent: The Next Big Thing

My boss has encouraged me to be more forward-looking. He wants us to think about What's Next and figure out how to invest in it. What's the next Google? The next Starbucks? Who's making the next iPod, and where do we buy the shares?

I dunno.

But I do have an idea whose time has come.

Every department store in these United States has a couple of dozen Ralph Lauren fragrances.
You can also buy Ralph Lauren towels. But you can't buy anything to make your towels smell good. For that you have to use Tide.

Now, even though Tide is admittedly the Rolls-Royce of laundry detergents, it still strikes me as hugely downmarket. So is that damn Snuggle bear.

Surely Ralph Lauren can come up with a laundry detergent that smells perfect. My flannel sheets would afford me a better experience if Martha Stewart sold a detergent that made them smell like Christmas. Even the cleanest sheets would seem all the more fresh were one to toss them into the dryer with an Hermes D'Orange Verte dryer sheet.

I once dated a girl in New York who worked for International Flavors & Fragrances. I told her this idea and she said it would never work because fragrances are divided into consumer and industrial uses, or some such that basically struck me as, "No, that's not the way the industry does things."

Which is, of course, silly.

The thing is, Tide isn't any better than the stuff you can buy for a tenth the price at Sam's. It does exactly the same thing. I'll admit that Dreft makes a difference for babies, but other than that, all detergents are the exact same, other than the way they -- wait for it -- smell. Tide sure as hell knows that. Its manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, is banking, wisely, on the fact that consumers will pay a premium for the perceived safety and quality we associate with our mothers' brands.

I hate spending $17 on a box or bottle of Tide. I don't get anything for the money that I don't get with a cheaper brand. And I don't care what my Mom used, as I know that the real reason the sheets smelled good when I was a kid is because she hung them outside to dry. Still, I don't have a clothes line, and I might well spend twice the amount on the same quantity of a designer detergent if it smelled Just Right.

That is, of course, also very silly. But I'd do it and I'd feel good about it. When a company can get its consumers to say that, it won't be too long before the trucks carrying profits start dropping off piles of cash at the bank. Because you have just come up with The Next Big Thing.


Kate said...

Does Ralph Lauren make soap? Because the way Mom gets towels to smell good is to put a bar of sweet-smelling soap in the cabinet between a couple of freshly-laundered towels. Works well, if of course you like that almond-cucumber-oat-peppermint-whatever stuff she uses.

Deb Goodrich said...

I think you should call Donny Deutsch with your "Big Idea." I know people who would buy the Ralph Lauren Laundry Enhancer.

Danny J. said...

Maybe they could come up with scent that could enhance the dream factor. Popcorn and cotton candy for a circus dream, bermuda grass with a slight scent of fertelizer for a golf experience, cigarette smoke and old whiskey for a night on the town... Sorry, I was beginning to drift off. You get the point though, make the sleep experience packed full of life experience, just like everything else. We Americans have to be over stimulated in just about everything we do, why not include sleep?

Heather said...

xHave we ever mentioned how much we love you? :)

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